In “Migratory Birds” by Mariana Oliver

MEXICAN-BORN WRITER Mariana Oliver’s debut essay collection, Flying Birds, weaving personal and historical together in meditative vignettes on displacement and possession. First released in Spanish as Migratory birds (2016) and now translated into English by Julia Sanches, Flying Birds delivers the reader on the wings of an accurate and lyrical prose.

“Migration is one of the most striking patterns of behavior of some bird species,” Oliver wrote. “A long-term need for repetition […] they are forced to travel far, even at the risk of their lives. “And in fact, there’s something incomprehensible that stubbornness makes species leave their origin, growing“ bigger and more surprising when resisted by gravity, ”as Oliver writes of the migrations of crane.The 11 essays on Flying Birds consider the phenomenon of transition as an exit from the limitations of one described here-and-now.

Oliver wrote the book between 2013 and 2015, when he returned to Mexico after some time in Germany. Not surprisingly, then, the geography of Flying Birds is extensive and includes references to Turkey (Istanbul and Cappadocia), Germany (Koblenz, Berlin), France, Cuba, and the United States. Cities and places became characters. None of the essays directly face Oliver’s childhood growing up in Mexico, and we guess he uses memories from abroad to re-discuss the present and reverse his experience of culture shock.

In “Cappadocia,” Oliver reflects on the geological and ethnological importance of the eponymous site in Central Anatolia – where visitors can admire from the sky at dawn in hot -air balloons. He communicates between above and below. Figuratively but also literally, he recalls that “some rituals of the passage begin with a person descending into a cave or grave: regress to the uterus, ”Referring to the area’s many rock grottos as well as a necessary internal journey.

In the American hemisphere, Oliver revisited the Cold War – era “Operation Peter Pan,” which saw more than 14,000 children leave Cuba for the United States between 1960 and 1962. In his essay “The Other Lost Boys and Girls, ”he recalled how baseless the announcements that the Castro regime planned to end parental rights were that pushed thousands of parents to send their children to the United States for safety. (with support from the CIA). As a result of this fraud, these young “Peter Pan” were removed from their homes and forced to move to a foreign land. One can only imagine the separation they must have felt.

Oliver denounces the power of lies and the gullibility of desperate parents that lead them to banish their own children. Even today, one is forced to admit that we are not immune to such behavior. In a timely climate of growing geopolitical insecurity, migration – whether forced or voluntary – continues to get at gunpoint. Reports of the detention of young migrants, separated families, mass deportation, and the militarization of the United States – the Mexican border are not from a distant period of history.

In the parabolic essay “Trümmerfrauen” (“women of the ruins”), Oliver considers the robust role of women in efforts toward rebuilding, recovery, and recovery, specifically their work in rubbish of postwar Germany (with no death in quick photos). Investigating the photo archives, Oliver follows the silhouette of a woman in a brick storage area in Berlin during the first winter after the end of World War II. These photos seem to suggest a private resolution, a belief that winter will inevitably bring hope of an impending spring. “The pair of trees that rise in the middle of the image,” Oliver wrote, “are also tied to the ground like these women; they too can live anywhere. Their roots, confined to the ground, hold promise. of leaves that will one day shade. “

Oliver often ruminates in scarred, formerly divided cities, such as Berlin. Its famous Wall – like Istanbul’s Bosporus, which forms “a liquid line” separating Europe and Asia – bears the weight of the past, “a dense fog that refuses to be lifted.” For Oliver, the Berlin Wall is a metaphor for many other walls built around the world to prevent migration, such as in the Middle East or on the border of the Southern United States. A wall, he argues, represents “a collective blindfold that protects people from shame, the physical manifestation of a recurring human fantasy: to live where no one can see us.” Historically, walls were built for defense, to protect cities from threats and illustrate the spaces between the human and animal worlds. Today, they have become a physical manifestation of a stance against the less fortunate, a barrier full of hostility to prevent imaginative contamination of “foreign” bodies. The wall is an expansion of power, but on the contrary it also inspires a desire to go beyond, to move further. Oliver follows up the questions of the political agency as he considers who demolished the Berlin Wall – in practice, it was the crowd that used hammers and jigsaws in November 1989, but symbolically, everyone was on either side. the dreamed about could happen. Oliver puts a conversation between Berlin and Istanbul through a discussion about the work of Turkish-born, German-language writer Emine Sevgi Özdamar. As if we couldn’t escape from an unseen thread that tied us to our nests, Oliver wonders if Özdamar was “looking for another city divided by a border” when he moved to Berlin.

The transition is a complex, living memory that can be found in the flexibility of languages ​​- Mind to mind Spanglish. Oliver reflects on the plural expressions of nostalgia in the German language, noting that words can be creatively combined to form new meanings, such as Heimweh – from home (house or house) and tayo (pain or sadness). In this grafting process, similar to the border crossings that are carried out, the fragments enter into a new whole. Immigrants must acquire a new language, must learn to express their deepest thoughts, values, and emotions in a new language, a daunting challenge in a foreign land. Even when they manage this difficult task, they still often face xenophobic suspicions that they do not belong. In his discussion of bilingual Özdamar, Oliver noted:

Authors who write in languages ​​other than their own are often questioned about their motivations, as if the words are also privately owned. Perhaps hidden behind this line of questioning lies the suspicion of infidelity or assault, an aversion to things that are illegitimate in appearance that can only be expressed through relentless investigation. Perhaps people believe deeply that authors who do not write in their mother tongue are taking something that is not theirs, that they write where they do not belong, that they are thieves of the word.

The concluding essay, “Blueprint for a House,” is a thought experiment in motion and the process of self-reclaiming through space and materiality. Is the house a color, a structure, a gathering of people and memories? Oliver suggested that houses are “spaces we can dwell in in the dark” – close but temporary.

A hybrid collection that gathers personal, historical, and travel essays, Flying Birds is, on the whole, sensitive and illuminating. In its original release, the book won the José Vasconcelos National Young Essay Award. It’s a decisive women’s work, emphasizing women’s weaknesses – overwork, not being appreciated – but also their empowering journeys and choices. Without denying the violence of history, Flying Birds firmly establishes the invigorating power of dreams and imagination. Julia Sanches, who also translates works from Portuguese and Catalan, elevates Oliver’s style while maintaining his unique voice and musicality. S branch acknowledged in a recent interview that the opening paragraphs of Oliver’s essays have been the most challenging to translate since they set the whole scene. Judging by the poetic depiction of Cuba that will open “The Other Lost Boys and Girls,” in which the kiss of sea salt and sweat is clearly alive, the S branch seems to have overcome this difficulty skillfully.

In a moving essay published last year on The Paris Review, Anna Badkhen recalls how augurs used sacred hidden meanings in bird patterns made in the sky. He suggests that three professions can give us clues about our collective future: prophets, scientists, and writers. Fusing all three roles, Mariana Oliver responded to the indefinite call of looking upward to the sky for answers. In birds – true and figurative – he finds life -affirming clues, comfort, and ambiguous signals. Understanding our connection, she shares the advice of Mexican poet Dolores Castro: “Words [are] like pigeons: You have to feed them every day or they won’t keep coming. ”


Farah Abdessamad is a New York City -based writer and critic. Visit him on his website.

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